Was leaving politics for writing a major mistake?
I’m Glaswegian. Politics is in my bones. I love a great debate where you say it, stop, listen, get it wrong, get it right, hear them, you’re heard, and all advance as a result. To prove the point, I once even married my best friend, an Old Etonian Tory. I am not scared of good debate.
And I’ve always done politics. Equality campaigns at college and as a student union sabbatical officer (Oxford, from a comprehensive), then in Labour and the free Tibet movement, and even as a real job, where I got to do a few things I’d be very happy to have on my gravestone (winning 0% VAT on incontinence pads and fast-tracked benefits for people with motor neurone disease are my faves). To my own surprise I even ran for Parliament – an enormous privilege in a great constituency with a fantastic local team. It was an honour and I believed passionately in everything we did.
But 13 years ago, I deliberately walked away from organised party politics. I felt I was being told what to think too often. Loyalty is important; but like Cordelia in King Lear, I don’t believe loyalty or love is about keeping your lip buttoned amongst friends. We grow together and constructive challenge is a part of that.
In the main political show, in the last week I’ve watched the Black Lives Matter debate diminished in Parliament by my old Weber Shandwick colleague and Home Secretary Priti Patel. (If you’re unsure why, take a moment to consider that the experience of being Pakistani or Indian, for example, is not the same as being Black). I’ve watched the PM appoint Munira Mirza, a woman of Asian heritage to head up his new race commission who’s from my tiny Oxford college (the now-90% state school intake gem that is Mansfield) and who is perhaps best known for denying the existence of institutional racism.
These are pertinent examples because they remind me how close I have been to “the action” and the people involved. I’m privileged enough to know many good MPs and peers in politics and I respect many of them, from all parties.
Given that privilege I had, was my walking away an opportunity irresponsibly wasted? Did I leave the battleground, thinking the war was over, that the values I held dear were safe? Was this my big mistake? Did I do a short-sighted and selfish thing?
Everything I write has a (sometimes well-hidden) political thread. But it’s first and foremost about engaging people in a way that plain politics can’t. It provokes and entertains, and gives its audiences tears, laughter, discomfort, cheers and food for thought days, weeks, months after (audiences tell me so; I don’t think it’s fibs):
- Sexual and emotional abuse in the upper classes (Water’s Not So Thick)
- Selling homes to fund social care (A Bit of a Song & Dance)
- Climate change, fascism and the power of the media (Skin In The Game)
- Armed forces and mental health (Passion)
- Middle-aged motherhood and mental health (Glitter Knickers)
- How social advantage impacts “who” we are (quantum physics 2-hander, Box)
- Alt-right men’s activists grooming young boys (Him – ready for producers now!).
Because life is political.
I chose writing rather than party politics because I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion. Stories have to be told. And the country has to – imho – treat people fairly and with compassion. And 13 years on, I arrogantly assumed I would have a louder voice as a writer by now. Heck, this is the long way round.
If I had carried on with politics, who knows? I probably wouldn’t have spent almost a decade on tax credits as a working single parent and domestic abuse survivor. Nor would I have my now well-established resulting strength, insights and empathy. Probably. I wouldn’t know and live amongst the vastly broad range of people I do. I might not be as happy as I am (I am very happy and fortunate enough to know it). Probably, my voice would be amplified, but would it be authentic, useful, grounded? Would I deserve it; could it do as much good?
But here’s a hope. Have I in fact been amassing a different kind of army, preparing a stealth attack with my pen, ready to take them (whoever they may be) from behind? That’s my hope. That’s my plan. Because I haven’t left politics at all. I’ve been learning. I’ve been living.
So, obviously, if you are in a position to work with me and share our work with audiences, I would love to hear from you. You can hear what it’s like working with me here and get in touch with me here. It would be great to chat. And change the world, one piece of excellent entertainment at a time.